“When I was twenty-one,” wrote Zadie Smith at age twenty-five, “I wanted to write like Kafka. But, unfortunately for me, I wrote like a script editor for The Simpsons who’d briefly joined a religious cult and then discovered Foucault.” What is a writer’s voice? Surely, as in life, we all have many voices, different ones for different occasions.
For the young Zadie Smith, Kafka’s voice established a norm: this is what literature sounds like. Different genres—fiction, academic articles, general nonfiction—conjure certain expectations. I write differently in all of them. But over the last couple of years, I’ve started to feel the strain of singing so many styles on the page, and I’ve started to wonder: What does my own voice sound like, freed from … Read the rest